Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire arrived in office six years ago with a vow to spur job growth. She’ll have 18 more months in office focused on reaching that same goal.
Gregoire said Monday she will not seek re-election at the end of a tumultuous second term that has forced her to make arduous budget cuts in areas she once sought to expand. She said there was no great reason for her decision to depart, but reminisced about her 40 years in public service.
“Now it’s time for me to go on and do something else,” the Democrat said at a news conference surrounded by family.
But her job isn’t over yet.
Washington’s unemployment rate is still over 9 percent, and Gregoire is poised to approve a new spending plan that will slash spending for education and other key areas of government. Gregoire said she intends to focus her final year and a half on the economy, and she gave her cabinet energy drinks Monday morning as a symbol that there’s still lots of work left to be done.
“The worst thing that I can think of for the state of Washington is for me to be preoccupied with a campaign right now,” said Gregoire, who won her seat in 2004 after two recounts and a court challenge. “I need to set my sights on the next 18 months and guarantee that we are out of this recession. I don’t want to be distracted from that.”
Gregoire’s announcement clears the field for 2012, giving voters a fresh selection of candidates after two consecutive campaigns in which Gregoire secured narrow victory over Republican Dino Rossi. U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee has indicated strong interest in the seat, while Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna announced his candidacy last week.
Inslee said Monday that he appreciated Gregoire’s service during difficult economic times. She said she called Inslee and would like to see him run.
“Today is her day,” said Inslee, who has served more than a decade in Congress representing a district that covers northern Seattle suburbs. “I will make my intentions on the governor’s race known shortly.”
McKenna declined to comment through a spokesman, but he distributed a fundraising email asking supporters to help “reclaim our state.”
“It is time for fresh ideas and tough decisions to guide our state through difficult times, and I am prepared to provide both of those,” McKenna wrote.
Gregoire said she has no plans after leaving office except to spend more time with her family. She said she will do everything she can to support the re-election of President Barack Obama, “but that doesn’t mean I’m looking for a job.”
In a statement, Obama applauded Gregoire’s years of service and said he will miss her “outstanding leadership.”
“Gov. Gregoire has demonstrated relentless determination in her efforts to foster economic growth, strengthen the communities she serves and improve the lives of millions of Americans,” Obama said.
Raised in Auburn, Gregoire was the first member of her family to attend college, graduating from the University of Washington in 1969. She went to law school at Gonzaga University and worked as a law clerk for the attorney general’s office.
Gregoire built a career in the attorney general’s office before she was elected to lead the agency in 1992. She spent more than a decade as attorney general before running for governor.
The 2004 race for governor was a contentious and competitive campaign that captured national attention, with Rossi winning the first round of balloting but subsequent recounts showing that Gregoire had won by a mere 133 votes out of 2.8 million cast.
She was re-elected in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote.
Gregoire’s last couple of years have been defined by her approach to dealing with the local effects of the national recession. She spent much of this year guiding budget negotiations between both parties and chambers as lawmakers sought to fill a $5 billion budget shortfall.
The final budget relied heavily on cuts to education and included double-digit annual increases in tuition.
“I look at having been through probably the toughest legislative session that anybody can remember in the last 80 years,” Gregoire said. “Throughout that time – and every time – I’ve done what I’ve thought was right for the people of the state of Washington.”